What is love? What is sex? What is sexual love? And what is erotic love?

For love studies to be truly scientific, there are a lot of scholarly questions that need to be answered. As I noted in another article, love and sex are inextricably linked to one another. Yet, there are several concepts related to these two that researchers should distinguish in this field of research. One of those is the concept of “erotic love.”

What is “sex” and what is “sexual love”?

The concepts of “sex” and “sexual love” have different phenomenology. Even though they may have behaviorally similar forms and expressions, they play their distinct psychological roles and associated with difference experiences (Karandashev, 2022a). How different are they?

“Sexual desire” is easily aroused, fleeting, and short-lived. Any sexually attractive individual is capable of satisfying sexual desire.”

“Sexual love” is a collection of more intimate and complicated feelings related to a certain other person. Only a specific individual can fulfill a person’s sexual urge.”

What is “love,” what is “eros,” and what is “erotic love”?

Love is directly yet intricately connected with sexual and erotic feelings. According to numerous stories, novels, and movies, both men and women have a preference for the beautiful and handsome. Such expectations are in their romantic dreams. Love and eroticism in life are tied to each other in many different ways (Featherstone, 1998).

The word “erotic” originates from the Greek word eros (érōs). The ancient Greek “eros” first emerged in the sense of aesthetic appreciation and yearning for beauty (Lomas, 2018). In modern scholarship and public opinion, however, this word often takes a different twist of meaning, associated with sexual and passionate connotations (see for review, Karandashev, 2019).

In ancient Greek origins, the concept of érōs is intimately linked with epithymia (as sexual love). However, both describe different emotional experiences. The word érōs conveys meaning beyond physical sexual desire. The word érōs implies a broader meaning—an appreciation of beauty.

Because the attractive appearance of a man or a woman easily triggers these feelings, the word certainly conveys connotations with emotions of passionate love (Tillich, 1954). Other subtle differences which scholars convince us to make are (1) the difference between elation of romantic sex-esthetic attraction and sexual arousal of sexual desire, and (2) the difference between non-sexual affectionate sexual love (Grant, 1976).

The Love of Beauty Is Erotic

“Erotic love” means that a lover perceives his or her beloved as a beautiful object worthy of aesthetic admiration. “Erotic love is about aesthetic pleasure, while sexual love is about sensual (sexual) pleasure.” (Karandashev, 2022a).

Both are certainly closely intertwined. In sexually stimulating situations, erotic can easily transition to sensual and sexual experiences. People frequently perceive erotic love as inextricably linked to sexual and passionate love. Such a mixing of these experiences is natural for complex human emotions. However, some people consider a partner’s attractive body, face, expressions, and other appearances to be “sexy,” while others consider them to be “beautiful.” It is an individual yet culturally determined experience associated with personal dominant motivations that the lover has in mind at the time. It can be a strong or moderate sexual drive. It can be the cultural values of a society that stress being “sexy” or being “beautiful.”

Multisensory Erotic Attraction

When a man or a woman experiences erotic love, the lover admires the beloved for his or her attractive physical appearance as perceived through various sensory impressions: visual, auditory, tactile-kinesthetic, olfactory, and gustatory. Interpersonal perception of lovers involves multisensory processes and several sensory impressions that are inextricably linked with each other (Karandashev et al., 2016, 2020). The dynamics of interaction are also involved. Men and women not only passively admire their partners, but also approach them, speak, sing, dance, touch each other, smile, hug, cuddle, kiss, and so on. Such dynamic expressive behavior often tells them more about erotic attractiveness than static body and facial appearance.

All of these perceptions and aesthetic qualities merge to produce what we call “erotic attraction” and “erotic love.” A lover admires his or her beloved for having attractive erotic impressions (Karandashev, 2022a).

Can you recognize erotic love from the facial expression of another person?

According to studies, people generally distinguish the faces of people experiencing love from those experiencing other emotions such as joy, sadness, anger, and fear. They can also recognize specific types of love, such as erotic love and tender love experienced by another person. Both erotic love and tender love have different facial expressions from joy and each other. A person expresses erotic love in semi-closed eyes, while tender love is expressed through a slight head tilt and a slight smile (Bloch, Orthous, & Santibanez, 1987; Hatfield & Rapson, 1993).

Victor Karandashev

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